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Magazines > Searcher > February 2009
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Vol. 17 No. 2 — February 2009
The Downs and Ups of Fear
by Barbara Quint
Editor, Searcher Magazine

The Searcher's Voice PodcastAre we having fun yet? It looks like the current economic downturn is on its way to rivaling the Great Depression of the 1930s. By the way, did you know that the use of the term “depression” to describe economic disasters may have been an attempt to cheer folks up? Severe economic downturns before were referred to as Panics. Our beloved Wikipedia lists eight such Panics occurring between 1819 and 1907, with the two (1837 and 1873) qualifying as depressions by lasting 4 and 5 years, respectively. And this leads into the topic of this month’s Searcher’s Voice, as well as the topic of Stephen Fadel’s article in this month’s issue. Times are tough and likely to remain that way for a while. Even the folks here in La-La-Land have seen the tunnel, if not the light at the end of it. Early last December, TheLos Angeles Times published an article by David Colker entitled “A Guide for the Newly Poor” [,0,4109653.story]. Only in L.A. would someone use the phrase “nouveaux poor” in such an article. But Mr. Colker may be quipping out of the other side of his keyboard now that the Tribune Co., owner of The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and many other newspapers, has filed for bankruptcy. In an ironic twist, when I read the “Letter to Readers” published in the L. A. Times to reassure subscribers (or these days, more likely, users) about the bankruptcy, the article carried two ads supplied by Google for services to assist readers in going bankrupt themselves. Lemons and lemonade. Clouds and silver linings.
Many of us can do more
than people think we can
do and for less money.

Of course, we all know that the U.S. economy will recover, that the stock market will rise again, that real estate in the Sunbelt will again become a sound investment. We also all know — in our minds, if not our intestines — that this recovery will come faster whenever people start spending money more and businesses start taking risks. However, since most of us carry our wallets a lot closer to our intestines than our brainpans, it’s going to take awhile — certainly until financial credit channels have been re-established — before we can expect the forces of recovery to prevail.

In the meantime, information professionals should strive to survive by doing the best they can for the people they serve and for the profession they espouse. Actually, we may have an advantage here. Many of us can do more than people think we can do and for less money. In times when people have to do more with less and for less, the underpricing of information professional services could turn out to be a bit of luck — finally. More and more, info pros are supplying polished analysis instead of data for other analysts to polish. It may be time to advertise how your salary buys your institution more bang for the buck. It may be time to scrap your title as a librarian and take on market researcher, competitive intelligence agent, business analyst, whatever. Just a thought.

Public libraries already constitute the major location for public computing. According to Jim Rettig, ALA president, 73% of U.S. communities can only get free internet access at their libraries. The number of public computers at libraries has increased by 48% in the last 2 years. These days online access is a lifeline to most people. If losing a job means losing internet access, that could mean losing the chance for the next job or the chance to find ways to get through the job-loss period.

Librarians, libraries, and their vendors should join to create tools that can help people everywhere survive the hard times and get the recovery going. How about creating a portal website that leads to all the sources for getting through the tough times, finding new jobs, seeking funds, even locating the opportunities a tough economy offers to those retaining solid resources? Any such portal should be on every library’s website. In turn, any librarian working on his or her own collection of helpful tools or guides should contribute back to the portal. And, wherever this portal appears, it should be clear that users can thank librarians as a profession for any help it gives them.

Addressing the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” In times of crisis, people need information — good information — more than ever. They need to plan smart solutions to complex problems. They need to time their moves for maximum advantage. They need to operate with a justifiable confidence that they know what they’re doing and what they’re going to do next. They need good, experienced, dedicated information professionals now more than ever.

— bq

Barbara Quint's e-mail address is
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